Five Questions at Ultra: Carl Craig on Trap Music, Planet E Records

Carl Craig and friend (Facebook)

We caught up with Detroit legend Carl Craig, just before he played The Boiler Room’s party at the Red Bull Guest House during Miami Music Week. The dance veteran, who has never been constricted by genre, is preparing an edition of Ministry Of Sound’s “Masterpiece” series, a 3-CD compilation that highlights his influences, tracks he’s playing right now, and new productions of his own.

Craig addressed the emergence of trap, the resurgence of vinyl, and what’s next for Planet E, his longtime Detroit-based imprint.

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The last time we talked in 2008, we discussed you opening your Fabric mix compilation with “The Whisper Song” by Ying Yang Twins. At the time, that was a thing, because dance music was dance music, hip-hop was hip-hop. The worlds are kind of converging a little bit more it seems.
Well, unfortunately I guess more hip-hop musicians are more opportunists more than they are anything else. So if they smell a hit, they’re going to run after it. I don't pay that much attention to it. But, I mean, I think that it’s really good that it finally is getting to this point because maybe there can be a new horizon that is similar to what it was when rap was first starting. Because disco and rap was the same thing. So I hope from it, even though there’s a lot of change that’s happening right now, I hope from it that there can be some inspirational things from the younger guys. And, I mean, I listen to... I like trap. I like bass music and stuff like that.

A lot of those young guys don’t know about the genre definitions; kids like Bauuer and even Skrillex grew up listening to everything. But in that situation, I think it’s probably more... less urban kids that are doing this stuff, and I would like to see more of the kids coming from Detroit and from Miami and from Atlanta and stuff like that, that are really going to get dark and underground and have these same things. Because honestly, I don't know of any dubstep boys that are like black guys, you know. It’s like, you really don’t see it. If a rapper wants dubstep, then they’ll get the Diplo or something, you know, Usher with Diplo or whatever.

Are you still living in Detroit? What is the music scene like in Detroit?
I can’t really put my finger on it because I'm always on the have road. So it’s kind of difficult to really tell what’s happening in the street. But radio still has a real dominant effect on kids in Detroit. The young ones like [house producer] Kyle Hall are traveling as well. So I’m just kind of waiting to see what’s going to happen.

You still run Planet E Records. With this whole world exchanging and exploding now, what have you kept and what have you changed from what you started out with or even your strategy or philosophy?
My philosophy is still guerilla warfare and it’s total control. But because I’m touring more than I’m making music, there are some aspects of control that I’m going to have to relinquish in order for the label to keep growing musically. And that's part of the reason why we haven’t released a lot recently, because I really want to make sure that it’s something that we feel very strong about.

So what are the projects you're working on right now musically?
I’ve been concentrating a lot on developing the next stages of my sound. So personally, I’ve been doing remixes like for Henrik Schwarz and Green Velvet. But on the label, we’re doing a new Urban Tribe album; hopefully, it can be our equivalent of African Head Charge, which is an Adrian Sherwood production. We just signed Terence Parker, and will release an album from his this year.

It’s an interesting era right now because you have all this “EDM”, but it's brought other people back to the history. There’s a resurgence in producers pressing vinyl. Have you noticed anything like that in your travels; differences in the youth culture?
Yeah, definitely. Culture in England, in London specifically, has been that way for forever. It’s cool to go to your local record store and hang out, kind of like it’s cool to go to the barber and hang out and sit there and talk shit. Ever since I started going to London in 1989, it’s been like that. And that trend is there. It’s like a tradition. And in Germany Hard Wax is still going strong; people go there and they hang out and listen to what people play and all that. In the U.S., we’re so vast of a nation, we have so many people and we like to follow... I wouldn’t even say trends. I would just say if somebody says something’s obsolete, then, oh, it must be obsolete. And, of course, we have the flag bearers in the older guys. I’ve been saying over the years that digital is in steps and analog is smooth. And what you're hearing is totally inaccurate in relation to the musical experience and stuff. So they seem like old geezers that are saying this. But at the same time, they’re keeping that tradition there.

And then the young guys are just looking for new experiences. And many times, the newest experiences are the old ones. Records are great because you can sit anywhere and read the liner notes. I used to look at the cover and imagine what the sound was like, what the record sounded like. And many times, the art on the cover told you what to expect. If you saw “Captain Fantastic,” Elton John, it’s like, okay. This is going to be wild. I got it. And that’s really great.